Wednesday, 9 March 2011

'THE EVENT' 1.11 & 1.12 - "And Then There Were More" & "Inostranka"

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Every TV show needs need characters the audiences care about and want to watch every week. It sounds so simple. But that's the key ingredient missing from The Event, and all of the Lost-inspired shows that have failed to replicate that island mystery's success. They seem to have willfully forgotten that Lost spent the majority of its first season as a piecemeal character study and castaway drama (with only occasional weirdness), not the knotty sci-fi spectacle it became.

The Event doesn't have great characters you can feel passionate about, just (mostly) decent actors trying their best to imbue two-dimensional plot-movers with some semblance of depth. Jason Ritter's a likeable guy, but did you ever care about his character Sean's search for his kidnapped fiancé? Or his drippy fiancé Leila's resulting search for her kid sister? Not really. Blair Underwood's charismatic, but are you behind his stoical President to the extent you were 24's President Palmer -- who's the clear inspiration? Unlikely. Are there any other characters we're supposed to feel engaged with -- considering the majority are aliens with hazy motives, at best? I don't see any. To add further estrangement, they all speak in riddles and vagaries -- even when they're sharing the screen with characters they don't need to be so unforthcoming around.

I'm past caring what "The Event" is now (if the writers even know), although I'm not angry the show's been teasing us with its titular mystery. Well, when it remembers to. The series has arguably provided more answers in its first dozen hours than Lost managed in two whole seasons, so how it's drip-feeding answers isn't too much of an issue. As I said, the key problem is how it's hard to care about a show that's 90% governed by plot and more excited by its premise than the viewers. I mean, ultimately, it's hard to see The Event going anywhere beyond an alien invasion scenario. We got that in the first 10-minutes of the V remake, and The X Files already spent years teasing a similar apocalypse that didn't even occur in its lifespan.

There's a lot of running around trying to catch "non-terrestrial" terrorists in The Event; plus sub-mysteries about kidnapped children with craggy faces, that undoubtedly tie into the bigger mystery. But without characters you care about it's all for naught.

Here's a game I play sometimes, in my head: if any of these characters were killed, would you feel the tragedy from the comfort of your sofa? I'm guessing not. Compare The Event's current status to Lost's first season, where pretty much every character could have died mid-season and I'd have felt the loss.

To some extent, I blame the decision to imbue The Event with forward-momentum akin to 24, only minus the real-time aspect. This has definitely given us quicker answers to questions, but almost by necessity rather than planning. You simply can't write a story as fast as The Event and keep as tightlipped as most mysteries would prefer, but it also means you can't develop characters particularly well. 24 often struggled, but it helped that the show was an ensemble with the focus on Jack Bauer. The Event's an ensemble with no focus -- with characters spread all over the place. The writers are just trying to keep various plates spinning. A few characters also disappear for extended periods, until the writers think of a way to bring them back.

This hasn't been a review of The Event's two-part mid-season return so far. Apologies. That's because I don't have much to say about particular developments in "And Then There Were More" and "Inostranka". As usual, stuff happened: Leila found her sister and discovered her dad's an alien, the President tried to keep a lid on the alien cover-up, and Sterling (Zeljko Ivanek) played Bruce Willis in a takeover of Inostranka by Thomas (Clifton Collins Jr), who was playing the Hans Gruber role.

FlashForward had a decent re-launch to try and correct its problems last year, which ultimately failed, but The Event chose to continue like it had never been away for almost four months. Maybe these episodes were in the can before the writers knew they'd be part of last gasp attempt to lure back viewers. The only noteworthy difference was the absence of any annoying flashbacks (a device that's wisely been disposed of, the writers say), and the debut of Virginia Madsen as an Alaskan governor who stumbles onto the top secret Mount Inostranka project. Madsen's a wonderful actress, but like all of the actors involved with The Event, she still has to work with the dicey material she's given. It's like getting Luciano Pavarotti to sing Pop Goes The Weasel.

I will probably continue watching The Event until the end of season 1, partly because it's a "dead show walking" according to the ratings (this two-part relaunch only mustered 5.23m), but reviews won't be weekly occurrences. How about you? Did you stop watching The Event early on? If so, did you come back to see this relaunch? Was it good enough to keep you watching more? Is the fact it's unlikely to be renewed for a second season putting you off?

"And Then There Were More" written by David H. Goodman (story by Leyani Diaz & Vanessa Rojas) / "Inostranka" written by Dan Dworkin & Jay Beattie (story by David Schulner) / directed by Jeffrey Reiner / 7 March 2011 / NBC